While recorded history shows Beijing to have been inhabited for over 3000 years, archeologists believe that the Peking Man (circa 500,000 years ago) lived here in caves. As a city, it has seen it all – fires, plagues, invasions, rise and fall of dynasties – and yet it has emerged stronger and more vibrant every time.
It houses not just the country’s, but some of the world’s largest landmarks. The Forbidden city is the world’s largest and the best-preserved imperial palace complex, with 8000 rooms still intact. Tiananmen Square is the world’s biggest central square. The longest wall (Great Wall of China) is a stone’s throw from here. The Temple of Heaven is the world’s largest sacrificial complex.
But the city is not only about heritage and history. If you walk around, you’ll find towering skyscrapers, busy shopping malls and an endless streams of traffic that makes the city much the same as any other metropolitan city.
It is difficult to draw an itinerary for this city since it has so much to offer. Let me attempt it, even at the risk of criticism. The must-sees include the Great Wall (ideally at Myutianyu, and not at Simatai or Badaling), the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Drum Tower, Bell Tower, Hutongs, Ming Tombs, Beijing Zoo, and the trinity of the (Wofu) Temple of Recumbent Buddha, the Temple of Azure Clouds, and the Fragrant Hills Park. While there, do try and catch the world famous acrobatic show at any of the renowned places – Wansheng Theatre, Tianqiao Theatre or Chaoyang Theatre.
Best time to travel to Beijing would be May (late spring), or September and October (Autumn). This is also the time when most world-class shows and performances are on. The city might be a challenge for vegetarians, but for others, a must-savour dish would certainly be Peking Duck. Some of the famous outlets serving it need a booking, to be done sometimes even months in advance.
One thing I’ll surely say about Beijing – you’ll come back fascinated and asking for more.